Help w/ performance materials for synth and sound effects

Hi fellow Doricians!

I’m currently in the middle of a big project which consists of five pieces for piano solo, orchestra, ethnic instruments, synth and sound effects. I’ve been working with a friend of mine who has a little studio to prepare a demo of the work (in fact, it started with the idea of recording my piano improvisations and then building something around them). So, I have a pretty decent demo of a couple of the works as of now.

The project has caught the attention of a fairly well-known record label in the UK and things look promising, so I’m preparing score and parts with the idea of recording in the near future and performing in the not-so-near future. I was happily going along with the piano and orchestral parts, which are all fine. But then I got to the synth and sound effects which is where I’m stuck at the moment and where I’d love to have your help and input.

As far as the synths, there’s a different number of effects, but I have no clue how to notate them or how to get those specific sounds (which are now in Cubase) into an actual synth/keyboard. In a recording do you record the synth playing those or do you have to send the recording engineer the sounds and he inputs those in himself?

Then, for the sound effects, I’ve selected and prepared a number of different water, rain, thunder, birds, and other random nature sounds, which I very specifically want in very specific spots. How should I notate that in the score? How should that be recorded? Is this something that the synth player also activates through his keyboard or is there a completely different person in a sound booth doing that job? Or something else entirely?

Anyways, I hope it’s less confusing for you than it is for me :wink:


Will this be performed live to click? If so then sound effects and any really specific synth parts can be on track.
As far as recording goes, give the tracks to the engineer.

I’ve done a fair bit of synth work where I get the notes on a chart, but an isolated track to recreate the sounds and effects myself. Any pro keys player will do that. If you’re not performing to click, the sound effects can be triggered by the synth player (from MainStage) or the FOH engineer.

In Behind Bars, Elaine Gould has some helpful suggestions for notating electronic music and samples. Begins on page 589.

No, this won’t be performed to live click. Yes, I think the best idea for performance is to have what Gould calls a “trigger keyboard” — thanks to @dankreider for reminding me of that wonderful resource — and she even has different ways of notating these electronics in score and parts. I feel less confused now, thankfully, but I still have some research and trying out to do :wink:

Thank you both for lending a hand!

Even if you notate patches and effects, definitely supply isolated tracks to any keys player. There’s nothing worse than half a page of instructions which actually only apply to the particular synth the composer had. A track will usually clear up questions. A ‘trigger keyboard’ is a bit out of date now the samples are more likely to be triggered from a laptop or iPad than from a hardware sampler. Notate triggers for rain, thunder etc. on a separate staff (and trigger off points if needed). Label these clearly as ‘1’, ‘2’ etc., as they’ll be assigned to laptop keyboard keys.

Feel free to send to me for a look… I’ve seen every possible problem… :slight_smile:

Great to know! Thank you, @steveparker! Once I get my head around this whole thing and have worked out something at least partly there, I’ll definitely run it by you to get some more advice and tweak it to perfection :sunglasses:


I apologize if this is addressing something different than what you’re asking, but in addition to the excellent advice given to you, as a performer in addition to composer I find it very helpful to have a somewhat detailed description of the sound as far as its characteristics (slow attack, overall timbre, etc.), with enough flexibility in how the part’s written to provide me with options.

For example, right now I’m playing in a musical in which a number calls for a “vintage synth arpeggiator”. Uh say what? Do you not realize how vague “vintage synth” is? Do you want a sawtooth kind of sound, a square, a triangle? How gated (staccato) do you want it? The questions go on and on until I say “Screw your intentions composer lady, guess I’m just gonna go with what sounds good.” Strike 1, composer and copyist(s).

It calls for two alternating loops, which at the start of the piece are notated in parentheses, and assigned a “trigger note” (low A and A# in this case). There’s a short sentence that explains this explicitly. So if Loop 1, which was fully notated in its first appearance, is to play for two bars, there’s a whole note low A, tied over to another to encompass two whole bars. Everytime those appear there’s a little note in parentheses that says “(Loop 1)” or “(Loop 2)”.

Overall I’ve found this very clear and easy to understand, so I do appreciate that aspect of it. You never know what equipment the performer has, so you never want to be too specific on how to achieve what you want. For this show, I need to trigger these loops while playing a piano part simultaneously; software isn’t an option for various reasons, and none of my hardware synths have an arpeggiator flexible enough, so I’ve ended up using a Nintendo 3DS as my synth and loop controller!

I’ve seen plenty of incomprehensible keys instructions in musicals… Some of the newest are actually impossible without MainStage. I gave up stressing about them long ago (as a hired player). As an arranger I hope I’m clear!